Literally breaking new ground on a fun, interactive way of teaching topography, Learning Undefeated’s Contour Augmented Reality (AR) Sandbox brings landscapes to life by augmenting sand in real-time with an elevation color map, topographic contour lines, and simulated water.
The Contour AR Sandbox teaches geographic, geologic, and hydrologic concepts that support student learning in reading topographic maps, the meaning of contour lines, watershed, catchment areas, flood barriers, and levees. “My school is located in the Coastal Bend [region of Texas]. A beautiful area – but relatively flat,” said 8th grade science teacher Mary Steed of
AC Blunt Middle School in Aransas Pass, Texas. “Many of my students have never seen mountains close up, making teaching topographic maps a conceptual challenge for them.”
With a projector, 3D sensor, and camera, the AR sandbox creates an interactive environment using tangible computing, which allows objects in the real world to be manipulated by a computer using open-source software. When students interact with the sand or simulate rainfall, a sensor detects the changes and will adjust the projection in real time. Designed at the specific request of Texas teachers – and built in staff member Alli Dudley’s driveway! – the CONTOUR AR sandbox is part of the Drop Anywhere Labs program and can be wheeled right into the classroom.
“We were learning about how mountains form, topography and maps. We are diagramming how rain changes and where water flows,” said Jordyn, an 8th grader at KIPP Liberation College Prep Middle School in Houston. “Where the land is higher, you’d get more lines if it was further apart, you’d get fewer lines. We can see in the valley where water collects from runoff, that was really cool.”
In fall 2020, Learning Undefeated created the Flood Barriers activity for grades 3-7 as part of the Texas Mobile STEM Lab curriculum. In this design challenge, students learn about downstream flooding as a problem in communities. They are presented a challenge and given the opportunity to put their engineering hats on to design flood barriers made from natural materials to find a solution for diverting water away from their home using the AR sandbox.
“The AR sandbox is so much better than having the students try and learn from a worksheet! I love this thing,”enthused Kyle Reiss, 8th grade teacher at KIPP Liberation College Prep Middle School in Houston, “If they had just learned this from a paper, they would never get it. With the [Contour] sandbox, they get it 10 times faster.”
“The AR sandbox allowed them to make their own mountains and valleys,” continued Steed. “Once the students got over the excitement of playing in sand (because they ARE kids, after all), they molded mountains based on images provided. They could actually see the contour lines and how the steep side of the mountains had lines closer together. We discussed the elevation and which side would be easier to climb. The visual representation of the mountains gave them that ‘aha’ moment that every teacher strives to obtain.”